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Big Man on Campus: A University President Speaks Out on Higher Education

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An eye-opening and at times controversial insider's look at the current state of higher education in America, from one of the nation's most distinguished and down-to-earth university presidents. At a time when daily news headlines scream of competitive college enrollments, skyrocketing tuition, campus violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and other campus scandals, the form An eye-opening and at times controversial insider's look at the current state of higher education in America, from one of the nation's most distinguished and down-to-earth university presidents. At a time when daily news headlines scream of competitive college enrollments, skyrocketing tuition, campus violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and other campus scandals, the former president of The George Washington University tells it like it really is. Educated at Columbia, Yale, and Harvard universities, with a membership in Phi Beta Kappa, more than fifteen honorary doctorates, four books, and numerous published articles, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is one of the leading voices in American higher education. Here he brings his thirty years of experience, wisdom, and wit to reveal what goes on behind the scenes in the difficult and rewarding challenge of running a university. Using wonderful anecdotes from his own life, Trachtenberg explains with compassion and his trademark humor the insight he has gained from the halls of learning. For parents who will write big checks to send their sons and daughters to college, for businesspeople of all kinds looking for leadership lessons, and for anyone invested in America's system of higher education, this book is a major work about the importance of sustaining our nation's natural brain trust.


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An eye-opening and at times controversial insider's look at the current state of higher education in America, from one of the nation's most distinguished and down-to-earth university presidents. At a time when daily news headlines scream of competitive college enrollments, skyrocketing tuition, campus violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and other campus scandals, the form An eye-opening and at times controversial insider's look at the current state of higher education in America, from one of the nation's most distinguished and down-to-earth university presidents. At a time when daily news headlines scream of competitive college enrollments, skyrocketing tuition, campus violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and other campus scandals, the former president of The George Washington University tells it like it really is. Educated at Columbia, Yale, and Harvard universities, with a membership in Phi Beta Kappa, more than fifteen honorary doctorates, four books, and numerous published articles, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is one of the leading voices in American higher education. Here he brings his thirty years of experience, wisdom, and wit to reveal what goes on behind the scenes in the difficult and rewarding challenge of running a university. Using wonderful anecdotes from his own life, Trachtenberg explains with compassion and his trademark humor the insight he has gained from the halls of learning. For parents who will write big checks to send their sons and daughters to college, for businesspeople of all kinds looking for leadership lessons, and for anyone invested in America's system of higher education, this book is a major work about the importance of sustaining our nation's natural brain trust.

30 review for Big Man on Campus: A University President Speaks Out on Higher Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    James

    As a university administrator who never served as a faculty member Trachtenberg offers an idiosyncratic perspective on university leadership.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Stephen Joel Trachtenberg was the 15th President of George Washington University, serving from 1988 to 2007. It’s fun reading his book, Big Man on Campus, the second time. He started his book with a funny anecdote on an airplane flight, a man sitting next to him asked what line of work he was in. This is what he answered, “I manage a large community that sits on more than forty acres of land in the middle of one of the nation’s most interesting cities. I said that the community is based on a mo Stephen Joel Trachtenberg was the 15th President of George Washington University, serving from 1988 to 2007. It’s fun reading his book, Big Man on Campus, the second time. He started his book with a funny anecdote on an airplane flight, a man sitting next to him asked what line of work he was in. This is what he answered, “I manage a large community that sits on more than forty acres of land in the middle of one of the nation’s most interesting cities. I said that the community is based on a model begun in the Middle Ages and many of our traditions are derived from that time, including the rather odd appearance from time to time of people wearing ceremonial gowns and handing out ornate sheepskin documents. I watch over 5,500 residents living in numerous housing units on the site and help plan the activities of 10,000 others commuting to and from the site each day. My workforce runs a fitness center, a hospital, two hotels, a multitude of restaurants, and various theaters where we sponsor performances by musicians, politicians, visiting heads of state, comedians, actors, and dancers. We have a number of athletic teams that compete nationwide. Accountants, lawyers, and investment brokers watch over the money we receive for our efforts. I have a police force, the largest payroll in the city after the federal and local governments, and, most important, more than 1,400 experts lecturing on every subject under the sun and doing research on matters with implications for the betterment of mankind. We have librarians and computer experts who find things for members of the community to read and study. We have our own newspapers and our own TV and radio production facilities. Most of our residents stay for four years. Our enterprise is so popular that I have to hire people to decide who of the thousands who apply will be invited to be a part of our community. In my line of work, I have my share of critics, but I am pleased to say I also have a number of supporters, many of whom give me money to use for my programs. Supportive or not, many people have an opinion about how I should be doing my job.” His flight companion listened intently to his job description. Then he asked, “So, are you the mayor of a big city or something?” That’s an interesting preface to start a book. Another interesting view from Trachtenberg is the important qualities that a university president must have. His list chuckles me a lot. If you ever worked in university then you may admire his wit as I do. *grin* •The iron endurance of Cal Ripken •The intellect of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the last man to know everything •The money sense of J. Pierpont Morgan •The inventiveness of Thomas Alva Edison •The spontaneous rhetorical ability of Winston Churchill •The diplomacy of Dag Hammarskjöld or maybe Bismarck •The ability of Harry Houdini to get out of tight situations •The conciliatory powers of Abraham Lincoln •The storytelling talent of Stephen King •The loving kindness of Mother Teresa •The virtue above suspicion of Caesar’s wife •The patience of Job

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jen Richer

    Having graduated from GW, any mention of said hallowed ground sends my heart a fluttering! So when I was tipped off to a recent book our former president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg published I jumped at the chance to read it. We have a word for those types... TOOLS. I was a bit skeptical, I'll admit. As president he was not the class favorite. But then again, few undergraduates openly professed their love for the university anyway. (Even though secretly they worshiped their Alma matter as much if Having graduated from GW, any mention of said hallowed ground sends my heart a fluttering! So when I was tipped off to a recent book our former president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg published I jumped at the chance to read it. We have a word for those types... TOOLS. I was a bit skeptical, I'll admit. As president he was not the class favorite. But then again, few undergraduates openly professed their love for the university anyway. (Even though secretly they worshiped their Alma matter as much if not more than I did.) GW has a few urban legends of its own, as the university that ate Foggy Bottom. But here SJT openly addresses all of them candidly... right down to the hippo myth. He explained with great comical detail and heartfelt justification many of the controversial decisions he made as an administrator. This is not only a must read for any GW alum, but should be assigned reading!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    Being a bit of a higher education junkie, I enjoyed this look inside the life of Trachtenberg, who was president of University of Hartford, and then George Washington University. I thought it was nicely written and included a lot of bits from his letter and speeches. (okay some of those were too long...) But I like the book anyway.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tinez

    hmmm...incorrect title on here. It's called "Big Man on Campus." hmmm...incorrect title on here. It's called "Big Man on Campus."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    Fun, behind-the-scenes overview of the university presidency in America!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tal

    Trachtenberg writes the same way he speaks in public - with humor. An insightful look at the varied responsibilities of a university president.

  8. 5 out of 5

    zack

    cool stuff.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Courtney C

    Interesting view on the role of the university president. I never really thought about the job description before.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joy Oaks

  11. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marjorie Duffie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Armstrong

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jay

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brianna

  17. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

  18. 5 out of 5

    Larisa Harper

  19. 4 out of 5

    Princess Leia

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gregg

  21. 4 out of 5

    Fouad Chedid

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Toney

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marlena Kalafut

  25. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Allen

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tara

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarab Singh

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brian Bride

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andy Newton

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